NiCHE has archived audio presentations from
Kheraj, Sean. "Demonstration Wildlife:
Negotiating the Animal Landscape of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, 1888-1996"
Historical and Global Perspectives on Provincial, Local & Regional Parks in
Canada. 29 October 2010.
Sean Kheraj is an Assistant Professor in
the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University.
During the twentieth century, Canadians
were most likely to encounter wild animals in cities. Canadian historians often
look to the study of rural wildlife in national parks to better understand our
relationship with nature because, in many ways, wildlife has become emblematic
of the country. From the portrait of a beaver on the five-cent coin to the
inflatable moose that whimsically hovered over the audience in BC Place during
the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, rural
wildlife has come to represent a significant aspect of Canada’s national
identity. Yet most Canadians in the past century have experienced wild animals
in cities rather than distant rural places.
This presentation examines the role of prominent landscape urban parks and zoos
in the construction and presentation of wildlife in Western Canada. What Vancouverites
encountered in Stanley Park for most of its history was a demonstration of
national nature through the composition and display of human-modified animal
landscapes. The Vancouver Park Board sought to improve the landscape of Stanley
Park not only by altering the flora but also the fauna of the peninsula.
Through the introduction and propagation of new species and the construction of
an elaborate park zoo, the board strove to enhance the nature experience for
urban park-goers by offering samples of authentic wildlife encounters. Over the
course of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries Stanley Park
emerged as a platform for the presentation of regional, national, and
international nature as squirrels, swans, beaver, bison, and even polar bears
inhabited the park to entertain millions of human spectators.
The creation of this animal landscape, of course, was not solely dictated by
the guiding hand of the Park Board. Instead, the animal landscape of Stanley
Park was built and re-built over time through a negotiation of competing and
complementary human and non-human factors. Each anthropogenic modification of
the environment of Stanley Park produced new niches or opportunities for
animals to inhabit and exploit that environment in ways that often contradicted
the will of the elected Park Board and its staff. The behaviour of these
animals influenced Park Board decisions and placed material limits on
humanity’s ability to transform the environment of Stanley Park.